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4.21  ·  Rating details ·  9,519 ratings  ·  1,011 reviews
A brilliant and beautifully written novel in the tradition of Robert Graves, Augustus is a sweeping narrative that brings vividly to life a compelling cast of historical figures through their letters, dispatches, and memoirs.

A mere eighteen years of age when his uncle, Julius Caesar, is murdered, Octavius Caesar prematurely inherits rule of the Roman Republic. Surrounded b
Paperback, 336 pages
Published November 9th 2004 by Vintage (first published October 31st 1972)
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John The different narrators make this book what it is. You hear the story of this young man through their viewpoints, prejudices, and anglings. Confusing …moreThe different narrators make this book what it is. You hear the story of this young man through their viewpoints, prejudices, and anglings. Confusing at first, the letters written by different people transcend how remarkable a person was the boy called Octavius.(less)

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Average rating 4.21  · 
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How to describe this painstakingly detailed, compellingly readable, simply complex, fictionalised biography, that explores the high price of duty, and is set in ancient times but is painfully relevant in 2017? Not like that.

There are myriad perspectives: it’s like viewing the ancient world through a kaleidoscope or the facets of a gemstone.

Or maybe it’s more like a hall of mirrors and windows, where you’re barely sure which is which and what distortions there may be. Versailles, perhaps: anoth
Vit Babenco
Apr 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Augustus is written in lucid and colourful style. Inventing all those fictional letters and documents John Williams vividly caught the spirit of the whole historical era.
Perhaps we are wiser when we are young, though the philosopher would dispute with me. But I swear to you, we were friends from that moment onward; and that moment of foolish laughter was a bond stronger than anything that came between us later – victories or defeats, loyalties or betrayals, griefs or joys. But the days of youth
Jun 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Those who see beyond the mask
This is more than a lush recreation of the nuanced menace of diplomatic skirmishing and Machiavellian intrigue, public guilelessness and carnage that gave birth to the Roman Empire under the ruling of its first Emperor.
This is more than a walk through the path of history because it takes unusual detours of borrowed memories penned by secondary historical figures that surrounded Octavius Caesar Augustus.
Delivered in a non-chronological letters that carry moments of high pathos spanning over sixty
Jan 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
“One does not deceive oneself about the consequences of one's acts; one deceives oneself about the ease with which one can live with those consequences.”
― John Williams, Augustus


John Williams read some Robert Graves and said, "Yeah, I got this Roman. I can do this." I'm trying to think of equivalent historical fiction that orbits the same level of prose mastery: Norman Mailer, Robert Graves, Hilary Mantel, E. L. Doctorow and a few others belong on this very short list.

There are some writers (l
Lynne King
And yet a third perfect book by this inimitable author who was working at the very height of his powers. I now know that I will never again come across a book such as this. I actually didn’t want to finish it as I felt that I had to continue in this enthralling dream. What disturbs me, however, is the downside that when one has loved something/someone so much, those following, well to my mind anyway, will only be substitutes which in itself is rather a sad state of affairs.

As I read this book I
“Neither Stoner [1965] nor Augustus [1972] is any less or more achieved than the other; they are simply different works by a remarkable writer working at the very height of his powers.” – John McGahern, introduction to Augustus


Where to begin? I guess the place to begin would be to explain why I read this book. I chose it because it was on our friend Ted’s TBR list. I sincerely wish that he had read it and that I in turn could have enjoyed one of his unique and entertaining reviews.

I sh
Told in the format of fictional letters and journals, Williams put together a biography of Gaius Octavius, better known as Augustus, the first Emperor of the Roman Empire. I knew that I would love this book, both because I am a total sucker for classical history, and because after reading “Stoner” (, Williams’ talent is not something I question. And he could not have picked a more fascinating subject for his final novel: Augustus was a privileged but book ...more
Feb 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Thanks to Howard's wonderful review reminding me of another lost book in the lost account. This book is brilliant, whether you are a fan of Ancient Rome or Roman History (which I am), or not, this book is such an enjoyable read. :-)
I've never been particularly interested in political novels or had any great fascination with ancient Rome, but this beautifully written novel held me transfixed nonetheless. It's a cliché to say it "brings history alive," but it does indeed bring history alive. Told in epistolary form as a compendium of letters and journal entries by characters both integral and incidental, we get to know Octavius Caesar the August from the perspective of those who love him and of those who despise him, but we ...more
Jun 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
John Williams' three novels are distinctly different from each other. Often, if you like one book by a specific author, it's safe to assume that if you pick up another, you will be served something similar - in topic, tone or language. But each of Williams' novels are - without compromise - true to their own, unique concept.

So is the case with Augustus. While Stoner is mostly a campus novel and Butcher's Crossing a western, Augustus is an epistolary novel on the rise and reign of Gaius Octavius,
Aug 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing

Good historical fiction is some of the best fiction - this book didn't disappoint. Fans of Williams' Stoner and Butcher's Crossing will find plenty to love; the author's recognizable compact writing style and rich imagery are on display throughout this book.

A reader isn't required to have a vast knowledge of Roman history between 50 BC and 50 AD, but it certainly helps. Reading this book shortly after finishing Appian's Civil Wars was the right decision for me. Williams' particular talent allows
Aug 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Augustus is, in my opinion, the best of Williams’s novels. Augustus was such an instrumental figure in Roman history, though he is often overlooked in popular memory in favour of the more turbulent and often shocking times that came before and after his reign of relative stability. But his story is truly remarkable: how did this unknown boy of nineteen, with little more than the promise of a name, manage to rise and overcome men with far more power and experience?

I think what makes this period
Spencer Orey
I enjoyed this dense look into the life and legacy of Caesar Augustus and good leadership overall. As I read, it sent me off to look up related Roman-inspired factoids, which is a good sign I guess. The overall heavy message about the burdens of leadership and his sacrifice of his own personal life for his love of power and Rome was... a bit obvious? But really handled well. And it was fun to see the famous figures appear here and there and weigh in on issues. I actually didn't enjoy reading lar ...more
Greg Brown
Nov 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
John Williams only wrote three books once he became a mature writer—his first he disowned—and they're all excellent. Unfortunately, this book is the last of the three I've read. There's a peculiar sadness when you finish the last book by one of your favorite deceased authors, the usual morose feeling of leaving a world only compounded by the knowledge you'll never again hear that voice for the first time. Kind of a bummer.

The first surprise of this book was John Williams ratcheting up the diffic
This is my third book by John Williams and it has once again blown me away.
All of this authors books are incredibly different but all are equally brilliant.

This one, told in epistiolary form in 3 parts. The first tells the story of Gaius Octavius who is destined to become Caesar Augustus the first Roman emperor. The second is mostly a journal by Julia, daughter of Augustus telling her story after she has been banished to an island for her adultery and the third is told by Augustus himself, it is
May 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
I decided upon giving Williams' epistolary fiction a four-star rating, because the elegant writing—which adheres to the classical form that it emulates to an impressive degree—is a pleasure to behold, and does an admirable job of situating a handful of important personages—mostly friends, family, or rivals of the titular empire founder—within the confines of the principal themes that the author wished to explore: the alienating and intoxicating aspects of power, whether in the arena of the polit ...more
James Ferrett
Dec 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
“It is fortunate that youth never recognizes its ignorance, for if it did it would not find the courage to get the habit of endurance. It is perhaps an instinct of the blood and flesh which prevents this knowledge and allows the boy to become the man who will live to see the folly of his existence.”

Augustus by John Williams retells the history of Gaius Octavius Thurinus, a young Roman nobleman who was the named heir of Julius Caesar. Stepping into a world of assassination, corruption and war, we
From what I understand John Williams only ever wrote 4 novels, but if so he was certainly an author who went for quality over quantity. This superbly written novel tells the life of Octavius Caesar through the device of (fictional) letters and journal entries written by the people around him. The introduction explains that Williams used this technique because he knew that in real life the Roman aristocracy were great letter writers.

The result is a fascinating character portrayal, in which Octavi
Apr 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: world-history
Williams’ thoughtful novel is in the mold of “I Claudius” but expresses some heartfelt emotion amidst the cynicism. The first part describes Augustus’ ascension to power and the early friendships he forms in the wake of Julius Caesar’s death. Augustus is cast as a loyal friend and true patriot dedicated to the glory of Rome and the betterment of its people. The second part deals with Augustus’ rule of the Roman Empire. Here, although not in the detail and salaciousness of “I Claudius”, the many ...more
Jan 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: five-star-books
“Augustus” by John Williams is a remarkable book on all counts. It has that perfect blend of beautiful prose and a retelling of history through the crucible of the literary imagination. “Augustus” is a supremely engaging novel characterized by a gripping plot, a rich cast of believable characters (neither villains nor saints), a deep unraveling of the impulses that drive humanity, and above all, some substance of import on which to reflect on the meaning of existence. Published in 1972, “Augustu ...more
‘In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.’ -Luke 2:1

For some people, that may be as much as they know about Caesar Augustus. For others, not even familiar with the Bible, they may not even know that much. However, there is no record (aside from this mention by the Evangelist Luke in Scripture) of such a census, which does not mean it did/could not have happened, just that no record survives ... as of the writing of this review. A lo
John Williams's Augustus is one of only four novels the author wrote. I have now read two of them, this one as well as Stoner. That leaves only Butcher's Crossing and an early effort from 1948 that Williams would rather forget called Nothing But the Night. If the two I have NOT read are anywhere near as good, Williams could be a candidate for the best American novelist in the Postwar Period.

There is little in common between Stoner -- about the life of a college professor at a Midwestern universi
Jan 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audio, overdrive
While I enjoyed this book, I probably should have read it rather than listening to the audiobook, which was difficult to follow at times. The story was told in the form of letters and journal entries, and out of chronological order. It was hard telling exactly where you were in the life of Augustus without being able to refer back to the headings of the chapters, which gave the date and the name of the character who was writing. I'm not sure I would have been able to follow it at all if I hadn't ...more
Helene Jeppesen
Apr 13, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is an epistolary which means that it is written entirely in letters. The focal point of these letters is Augustus and how he came to power in ancient Rome. It starts with the murder of Julius Cæsar in the Senate, and it follows Augustus as he grows up and becomes one of the biggest emperors of Rome.
I was very excited about this story, but admittedly I was also very sceptical about it being told through letters. However, I quickly realized that this narrative style appealed to me a lot
After thoroughly enjoying Stoner by John Williams, I was disappointed to discover I only had a few more of his works to look forward to. So I put off the reading of the next one: my way of spreading out the enjoyment. I chose to read Augustus next, for no particular reason. I am not a huge historical fiction fan, and I am not well-versed in Roman history but I loved Augustus. Augustus is a very intimate portrait of a great man who wielded tremendous power over a long life, who loved and was stro ...more
Mar 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: historical-novel
4.5 rounded up to 5 stars. The reason I didn't give this a full 5 stars is that I could have used a glossary of some of the Roman names. But what a minor detail! John Williams found an inventive way to write historical fiction in this book by using the device of letters and diary entries. There were many times when I had to remind myself that I was reading fiction as the details were so crisp that I was convinced these were real letters.
Jan 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
Augustus is an epistolary novel set in classical Rome. This is written by John Williams, an author I haven´t read before. Many favourable reviews of Stoner which came into my way lately made me very curious about Williams´ work. He seems to have written only great novels. Not many though, but it says that all can be placed on the great American novel bookshelf. So when I saw Augustus at my library, I knew the time was right.
In Augustus Williams tells the story of the founder of the Roman Empire.
Jan 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Some men rise some men fall. It is the wheel of fortune that has haunted human existence for millenia. Some in great measure, others in barely palpable shifts of misery.

I am not a classicist. I've always preferred the Greek to the Romans, defending its authentic nature compared to the me-too brutishness of the legacy that followed. Leave it to Williams to strip me of my right to label and once again hammer home the universality of human existence from mortal god to political upstart or mulemong
From the very first pages I knew this was going to be a 5 stars book. Augustus is a fascinating and beautifully written historical novel, an enjoyable read but also a deep and personal portrayal of a complex historical figure.

The story is told through different documents written by different characters (one of my favourite formats), and, even if Augustus himself only "speaks" in the last pages, by the end of the book you truly feel as if you know this man intimately. His characterization was ma
Mike Duncan makes Octavian sound like a spoiled little asshat with a cruel streak, but he was ultimately successful in creating a stable bureaucracy (and outliving most of his descendants, despite his constant illnesses). I could get into what makes the Princeps tick. Although this cover is pretty creepy ...


I wonder, if he saw me, would he recognize what he has become? Would he recognize the caricature that all men become of themselves? I do not believe that he would.

This is a gorge
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NYRB Classics: Augustus, by John Williams 7 85 Aug 22, 2014 01:42PM  

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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name.

John Edward Williams, Ph.D. (University of Missouri, 1954; M.A., University of Denver, 1950; B.A., U. of D., 1949), enlisted in the USAAF early in 1942, spending two and a half years as a sergeant in India and Burma. His first novel, Nothing But the Night, was published in 1948, and his first volume of poems, Th

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